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Choosing between Study Abroad or National Student Exchange to Travel the World

Catherine Stolfi has a Master of Science degree and enjoys sharing experiences related to expanding awareness on particular topics.

For a different and newly exhilarating experience in a school semester, try immersing yourself in Study Abroad or the National Student Exchange (NSE), offered through colleges throughout the country. As a student you can be exchanged to any of the over 200 colleges and universities that take part in NSE. The most exciting part of the program is the freedom and possibilities you have in colleges, programs, and choices. Unlike college offered Study Abroad, you can take part in any class or program available at the participating institutions, as long as there is availability. For an experience more closely linked to your University or College where professors from your campus are hosting, you choice is Study Abroad. In this article, I'll discuss both options and my experience with one of them.

The National Student Exchange

The National Student Exchange is not new; it’s been swapping students all over the U.S. and Canada for over 45 years. Many of the colleges that participate globally may be familiar to you while other colleges may intrigue you with their locations, such as eight universities to choose from in Puerto Rico, two in the U.S. Virgin Islands, three in Alaska, two in Hawaii and eight in Canada.

There are a few requirements, policies and considerations to take into account when making your decision. There is a different length–of–stay requirement for each school. Most require at least one semester, while others require an entire academic year, which are fall, winter and spring semesters. There are a few that don’t offer summer semester exchange. It’s important to do your research on each school and its length requirements before choosing. To be eligible for the program you must be a full time student.

If you want to attend a school in Puerto Rico bear in my mind all classes are instructed in Spanish including readings and lectures and language proficiency must be demonstrated. Also, some programs, as you are open to all at each institution, may be highly competitive. Keep this in mind to ensure you have back ups. It's also important to ensure the classes you take are transferable to your institution because, unlike a Study Abroad, this is a program not connected to your school directly. Before you choose, it is imperative you check with an academic advisor at your home college to make sure the classes you choose to take will assist you in your goals and transfer to your school in a way that it's beneficial to you or doesn't put you too far behind, whether for graduation or others goals.

Financial aid is available for the program but requirements are dubious. You must check with your visiting college about payment plans and keep in mind that host campus fees will be required to be paid. The State Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) may be applied to such exchange programs and are also eligible for federal student loans and Pell grants.

You also have to consider that you will be a visitor to this region and extra expenses will be a factor: such as transportation, food and living expenses. Many campuses have housing availability but, again, it depends on the institution. For specifics about each participating college, listings of all undergraduate majors that are offered, and general info on the NSE program visit

If you are interested in doing something to make your college career a little more exciting and adventurous, NSE may be for you. It can be an opportunity to delve into different cultures and geographic regions, gives access to classes not normally available, looks good on future graduate or job applications and can assist the participant in acquiring life skills that may not be available to you otherwise.

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Study Abroad

The Study Abroad program is quite different from a program like National Student Exchange because it's offered directly through your college or university as an extension of their course offerings. This could be beneficial to a student that doesn't want to navigate the complexities of offerings to ensure they'll transfer to their home institution. Plus, the offerings are often hosted by professors you may already know or have taken courses with so you may know what to expect already from their teaching style.

If your current school happens to be part of a grouped system, such as the SUNY system of the state of New York, there may be even more options for you since you could often take part in any of the programs offered across all of those universities regardless of your home college. Also, those colleges within that system often have similar curriculum requirements so almost all are directly transferable, especially for the core class requirements or elective options.

My experience with these programs was with Study Abroad. I attended Stony Brook University on Long Island in New York and was a Biology major thus I narrowed down my options to those that contributed to the course requirements of my degree. I chose a Study Abroad in the Caribbean on the island of Jamaica, connected to a program offered at the University of the West Indies, in Tropical Marine Sciences. This program allowed me to not only receive course credit, even more than one regular semester course, but also fulfilled a junior student requirement for a thesis paper. For the study abroad, I worked with another student on a group project for my thesis and took courses with the host professors for the course requirements.

The most unique aspect of this program, which was a 4-week experience, was the opportunity to snorkel daily as part of the learning aspect. At the facility where we stayed was a fragile coral reef ecosystem where we could learn the fish, fauna and sea life. We also had an aquarium and lab to utilize for the particular topic for the project we chose to research. There was also a shared computer station, cold showers and home cooked meals where you ate what was made that night or went to bed hungry, but the positives far outweighed these negatives for me.

Overall, it was an extraordinary experience where I made long-time friendships. This was due to the small participant group and the 24-hour interaction with the other students; you're bound to get close. I also gained substantial references for my resume and for graduate school from those professors I worked so closely with during my study abroad. That was a benefit I was able to carry with me into my future career.

Ultimately, it's your decision and up to you to weigh the pros and cons for either of these programs and which would be best for you. Regardless of what you choose, the experience will be an opportunity to delve into other cultures, see the world, and learn something along the way.

© 2013 Catherine Stolfi


Bobbie on January 03, 2015:

I really wish there were more artlcies like this on the web.

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